Tweet About Hijabs at the Olympics Is Causing Controversy

August 11th 2016

Lucy Tiven

For many, the Olympic games are fueled by a spirit of tolerance and diplomacy. However, one Twitter user, Charlie Kirk, does not appear to share that view.

On Tuesday, Kirk shared an image taken during a match between Egyptian volleyball player Doaa Elghobashy and German athlete Kira Walkenhorst. The image itself has been widely circulated online over the past few days. The picture garnered so much attention because it seemed to send an inspirational message about people from different cultures coming together at the Olympic games.

Kirk interpreted the image quite differently and used it to pose an Islamophobic, sexist "would you rather" game.

Trumpeting the superiority of Western civilization over non-Western cultures is xenophobic no matter how you slice it, but what makes this comment particularly grotesque is its shameless use of women's bodies as props to make an Islamophobic political point.

While there are contexts in which women have been forced to wear hijabs, it is presumptuous to assume that this is the case of Elghobashy or anyone else.

Policing female bodies is always objectionable, but in this case, it is has a message that not only strips Elghobashy of her agency, but uses her as a placeholder in a literal "Us vs. Them" statement.

Kirk's tweet claims to address female empowerment, yet it is profoundly unempowering.

Elghobashy is also the only volleyball player on her team to wear a hijab — so the implication that all women from her country are forced to seems to be proven false simply by looking at her team mates. In interviews, said she has chosen to wear one for ten years because of her Muslim faith, according to Reuters.

In the New York Times, Tufts University Muslim chaplain Celene Ibrahim described the experience of working with Muslim women and the misconceptions that can come along with wearing a hijab.

"In this work I have observed that hair covering is not a reliable sign of the piety or sincerity of a female Muslim," she asserts.

Ibrahim continues:

"Certainly there are contexts in which the forced donning or forced removal of the scarf demeans women’s bodies and agency. Just as Islamist forces emphasize veiling as an outer symbol of the Islamicization of society, colonial and neocolonial forces have emphasized de-veiling as part of their hegemonic presence. The paradox is that, whether a woman wears a headscarf or not, fault finders can point fingers and pass judgement on her intentions and preferences.

"For me, the headscarf is a way to perform an act of daily devotion and to identify proudly as Muslim. At the same time, the feminist in me sees long, loose clothing as one way for women to guard our bodies against unwelcome gazes and other forms of male chauvinism. It is perhaps hard to convey, but for me, covering also reflects a disposition of inner humility. I personally like the aesthetics of this style of dress and find it very dignified."

Kirk's misconceptions about the hijab are not uncommon, but they strike a particularly troubling chord during the Olympics.

As we've seen this year in Rio, the spectacle of the Olympics can present troubling contradictions: beyond the Olympic stadium, Rio's economic, political and environmental realities starkly contrast the spirit of celebration and excess that comes across in television coverage of athletic champions vying for gold medals.

But at the heart of that spectacle, there is a poignant message of unity.

The event seems to suggest setting aside political differences and celebrating the cultures of each nation that participates as well as athletic excellence.

[h/t Mic]